What do the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Harry Potter have in common? At the 2021 International Thespian Festival, theatre educator Randall Adkison answered this question: both utilize the tool of transmedia storytelling to create story worlds that straddle multiple forms of media.

Transmedia storytelling is taking one story world, like the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and expanding it so that it covers different forms of media. From the original written format in the book, to movies, stage adaptations, sequel books, and merchandising. Here are two practical takeaways from Adkison’s workshop. Participants were introduced to a powerful way of creating expansive and interactive story worlds through transmedia storytelling

Transmedia Storytelling_Randall Adkison

Randall Adkison is the Interim Executive Director at Florida Association for Theatre Education in Tampa, Florida. His popular workshop, Transmedia Storytelling at the 2021 International Thespian Festival, taught attendees how to look at story worlds with fresh eyes. He opened up new ways of thinking about how different platform can expand a story! From the book, to special videos to merchandise. 

#1 Transmedia Storytelling lets the audience interact with the story in a tangible way.

In the workshop, Adkison led students through a hypothetical transmedia storytelling plan for the musical Oklahoma!. He presented the idea of creating an online video series in which different characters from the musical are interviewed. He also introduced the possibility of bringing audiences onstage after the presentation, perhaps to reenact a barn raising or square dancing. Both of these tangible activities are part of transmedia storytelling. They expand the story beyond the stage and create opportunities for the audience to interact with the characters, the setting, and time period in innovative ways. As Adkison put it, “I have an idea in my head of how Oklahoma! should be done. I have an idea of a traditional musical. So how can we use transmedia storytelling to break apart that idea?”

How can young theatre makers use this strategy to “break apart” an audience’s preconceived notions of their shows? It helps to understand how stories are naturally fluid. Just because a piece of theatre was designed for the stage doesn’t mean that it needs to remain there in order to reach audiences. In fact, transporting elements of the story, for example the characters, to media like video increases audience participation. A video may make the story seem much more approachable. As Adkison taught workshop attendees, promoting a production often means meeting the audience where they’re at.

#2 Transmedia Storytelling provides opportunities to expand your story world.

The creation of a story world requires collaboration from actors, designers, directors, and dramaturgs. Each member of a creative team interprets the script or story in a different way and adds new details to the story. It comes to feel more like a well-developed universe, not just words on a page.

In his workshop, Adkison brought up the example of the Star Wars universe,
which he described as “one of the first real expansive story worlds that was created as a modern myth.” He further explained how “George Lucas was brilliant in that he immediately created tie-ins with merchandising. Lucas saw the need for people to be able to incorporate the story on their own and to play.”

Just as the creators of Star Wars took advantage of the audience’s passion for the story world and turned it into lucrative merchandising, theatre students can use their research on character and setting elements to add depth to the story world. To give one example, information about the play’s time period can be presented in a YouTube video, alongside depictions of period costumes. According to Adkison, Instagram takeovers are another effective method for engaging online audiences with an in-person story by one of the characters or the writer. They can provide insight into the backstage world of the show.

Using this method means that all research and character work has a purpose: to add
richness to the story universe that engages the audience. Creating an influential story in the digital age is as simple as thinking outside the box … or off of the stage! 

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